Waiting On Line Getty Images Entertainment/Astrid Stawiarz
By Virge Randall

New York doesn’t have time for a fugue state. If Bach lived here, he would be composing hardcore techno, not the Goldberg Variations.

That’s what I wanted to tell the young guy in flip-flops and shorts ahead of me on line, waiting for the only cashier. The guy just stared into space, perhaps wondering how many beers the bag of ice slung over his shoulder could keep cold. He could have been calculating Pi to the 50th decimal point for all I cared. The line was moving…but he wasn’t. So I asked him if he actually was on line, and he said “Yes.” He drifted forward a half step and resumed his trance-like state.

Naturally, “Spacey Guy” — let’s refer to him going forward as “SG” — didn’t notice another cashier walking purposefully toward an open register. Needless to say, my items were on that counter so quickly, I almost went back in time.

Meanwhile, SG awakened, blinked, and stared at me with the blank look of a puppy viewing a magic trick. If he had a thought bubble it might have read, “She was behind me. I saw her behind me. Now she’s ahead of me. How’d she do that?” How?”

Welcome to New York City, SG. All those montages in TV shows and commercials showing excited, fast-paced city living only told you half the story. It’s not all nonstop nightclubs and racing to hit all the green lights driving up First Avenue — it applies to mundane tasks, too. That’s what “The City That Never Sleeps” really means; and that “New York Minute” you’ve heard so much about applies to checkout lines and laundromats and nailing parking spots on the good side, as well.

I left the store with a smile and the satisfied feeling you get when you beat everyone else in a line, but only when having done it honestly with speed and alertness — line-cutting is a New York sin. I was extra happy because, before I left, I noticed SG’s new focus on how the line was moving; the scales had dropped from his eyes. One of the unwritten rules of New York City had been revealed to him: “Keep it moving.”

I wish “keep it moving” could replace “have a nice day” as the universal closer for interactions of all kinds, or at least most kinds. It’s a much more practical suggestion and might actually result in having a nice day.

This ironclad motto is genetically encoded in real New Yorkers. We are all probably premature births, for one thing, because that’s how you get the nice bassinet and the spot nearest the windows in the nursery. Keeping it moving is what makes the City we love vital and exciting, challenging and frustrating. It gives all real New Yorkers the edge we need to stay in the game…most of the time.

Recently, through the large plate glass windows of a retail store, I saw a very well-built young man walking around the open windows of his apartment, totally naked. Even though I was in “on line mode,” I froze. I may be a New York native, but I’m not blind; no one could “keep it moving” in this circumstance. Besides, I might have lost my view.

The woman behind me gave me a, “Hey, you movin’ or what?” I just pointed without breaking my gaze.

She froze…and got poked by the woman behind her, who then also froze. It was probably the first time in NYC history that nobody moved up a space when the cashier was free. We looked like a diorama for some future Museum of Natural History circa 3015: New York Shoppers in Native Habitat.

When the manager came over to investigate, everyone pointed at the window across the street. The manager froze. Like birdwatchers in the wild, we all remained absolutely still to observe the rarest of specimens: “Naked Guy with Muscle Definition Visible Clear Across Third Avenue.” The Insane Clown Posse could have driven the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile through the front window and rifled every cash drawer, and nobody would have noticed.

Sadly, Naked Guy left the room, no doubt to prepare for his Abercrombie & Fitch modeling job. Nobody moved for another few seconds, just to make sure. Then, just like that, the spell was broken. The woman behind me actually sighed.

Sure, we’re New Yorkers, but we’re only human…most of the time.

And don’t get me started about that.